It could be a vineyard in Tuscany or a farm estate in Ireland, but if it weren’t for those rare, native Engelmann-oak groves, it’s hard to believe you’re in California when you visit Rancho Guejito. Just to the left of San Pasqual Valley, and ahead of the foothills that lead to Mount Palomar, the sprawling 36 square miles of Rancho Guejito (pronounced wa-hee-ta) vineyard is an untouched treat to take in. The land and rolling hills, roaming with cattle and devoted to agriculture, is a swell of vibrant green.
Established in 1845, Rancho Guejito is home to one of the earliest vineyards planted in California and one of the last remaining Mexican land grants of Old California. The 13,298 acre land grant was given as a gift to Jose Maria Orozco, a customs agent, by the Mexican Provincial Governor, Pio Pico. The property has since grown to nearly 23,000 over the past century and a half. The adjoining Maxcy winery and vineyard was annexed to Guejito in 1940, adding 4,500 acres to the flourishing property. The most recent acquisition was the 100 acre Rockwood Ranch farmhouse, a historic Victorian house that was built in 1883 that is now the location for the vineyard’s tasting room.
Ownership has scantily changed throughout the nearly 175 years of the Ranch history. The last notable purchase was in 1974 for $10 million by New York businessman Benjamin Coates. Coates died in 2004, but the property is owned and run by Theodate Coates, Benajmin’s daughter. The Chief Operations Officer, Hank Rupp, joined in on the running of the ranch in 1987 and has since been an integral part in the preservation, expansion, and operations behind the agricultural gem. Hunting is forbidden on the property because of the danger of fires, which is good as the Ranch has not been immune to the ferocious California wildfires. In 2007, thousands of endangered Englemann oak trees, among acres of native plants and wildlife, were burned down in the ‘Witch Creek-Guejito’ fires.
Presently and Pleasantly Wild
The vineyard and winery has an interesting history of its own. The vineyard was developed in 1849 when Col. A.E. Maxcy, a gold miner in the Great Gold Rush, gave up prospecting to pursue the farm life. His muscat and mission grapes yielded around ten tons per acre, and by the turn of the century the winery was known as the leading producer of wine in Southern California.
Maxcy died in 1901 and the winery continued to operate under his daughter’s ownership, until she married an alcohol prohibitionist and closed the winery down in 1906. What remains still stands on the property, though the wildfires and elements have caused it to ruin. This of course, adds to the folkloric-nature of the Ranch, and a unique backdrop for wine tastings at the present-day viticulture operation.
What the Future Holds
Only from the helicopter ride, organized by the Ranch, can visitors truly digest the grandeur of the property. We were able to get a birds-eye view of the Maxcy winery ruins and vineyards, and we could easily spot cattle roaming the trails (leading the pack of bicyclists no less, at the SDMBA’s ‘Ride the Rancho’.). Helicopter tours, along with vineyard visits and wine club gatherings, have been the most exposure the public has had in the land’s long history. There has even been some talk of possibly hosting more outdoor events in the future. However, the owners and managers are careful not to disturb the native environment and cautious with their occupancy.
Only time will tell what the future holds for Rancho Guejito, but exposure to this majestic land is an experience that’s like traveling through time and space. Follow along with BICYCLIST to learn of any upcoming two-wheeled opportunities in this glorious Destination Within Reach.